Michelle Monroe, St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS — A verdict is expected today in the trial of Tristan Cameron of St. Albans. Cameron is accused of grossly negligent operation in the July 18, 2013 accident that killed his friend Tyler Rheaume, 16, of Sheldon.
Friday’s court proceedings included a point at which the defense sought to suspend the trial due to conversation between jury members, a bid rejected by the judge.
According to court testimony, Cameron, then 17 and recently licensed to drive, came around a curve on the Duffy Hill Road near the intersection with the Burns Road when a farm truck driven by Archie Domina Sr. was coming from the direction of Enosburg. Domina, claimed Cameron came around the curve wide.
Both drivers steered to the right, with Domina, who has a farm in Sheldon, going onto the Burns Road.
Cameron’s car may have gone into a yaw at that point – state experts say it did; defense experts say it did not. In a yaw, the rear tire comes out beyond the front tire, instead of tracking behind it.
Regardless of whether the car yawed, tire tracks show that the passenger side of Cameron’s car went off the edge of the road. He steered back onto the road, but lost control. At this point, both sides agree the car was pointed across the road, with the passenger side directly in the path of a second truck driven by Jason Marchand, an employee of Domina’s, who at the time resided in Alburgh.
The truck struck the car between the two doors, trapping Rheaume inside the car. He later died of his injuries.
The defense presented the majority of its case on Friday with local residents talking about the hazards of that curve and how motorists coming around it from the south as Cameron was cannot get too far to the side, because of a 20-foot rock ledge and a complete lack of banking in the road.
In addition, the defense had an expert witness, Kenna Johnston, of the Crash Lab, challenge the state’s interpretation of the supposed yaw marks in the road, using a magnetic scale model complete with a car and two trucks to argue that if Cameron’s car had gone into a yaw then the car would have gone off of the road into the ditch at that point.
Johnston also used the measurements of the brakes on the truck driven by Marchand taken by Department of Motor Vehicle inspector Jamie Salter after the crash to determine the amount of force applied by those brakes. The front two brakes wouldn’t have worked, she said, and a third brake would have the same braking force it normally would have, but it would have been delayed.
Her calculations, Johnston said, put “the truck braking at only 64 percent of what that truck is capable of.”
If the brakes had been fully functional, assuming the truck was traveling at 20 mph, it would have been moving 5 mph more slowly at the time of impact. “Potentially, the car would have traveled in front of the truck without impact,” Johnston testified. Alternatively, it might have struck the car further to the rear, she said.
“If nothing else, the lack of brakes, or the lack of maintenance on the brakes, exacerbated the damage to the car,” Johnston stated. The truck was uninspected at the time of the accident and would not have been able to pass an inspection because of the out of adjustment brakes.
On cross examination, state’s attorney Jim Hughes asked about marks identified by Trooper Dan Marcellus, the state’s reconstructionist. Marcellus testified that the small piles of gravel at the end of those marks indicated the front brakes had worked.
Johnston answered, “The front tire may have left a mark, but that doesn’t mean it locked up.”
Johnston also testified that marks in photographs of the road indicated that the travel lane used by most drivers on that corner was only 15 feet wide. The truck driven by Marchand was more than eight feet wide.
Testimony was delayed on Friday by three hours.
Judge Alison Arms encouraged the jurors to talk among themselves during sidebars with the attorneys, because that would make it less likely they would overhear the sidebar.
While Arms was holding a sidebar with the attorneys shortly before noon on Friday, jurors spoke among themselves. Some were overheard speaking about the case. Jurors are to wait until after both sides have rested and they have been given their instructions from the judge to discuss the case.
After learning of the jurors’ conversations, Arms interviewed each of the jurors. She then shared the results of those interviews with attorneys in chambers. The defense moved for a mistrial. The state opposed the motion.
Arms ruled against the defense motion, allowing the trial to continue.
The jurors’ comments focused on the manner of presentation and no one expressed a conclusion about the case, said Arms. When asked, they each said they could continue to hear the case in an impartial manner, according to Arms. “The jurors were very forthcoming with the court,” she said.
The discussion was not prejudicial, Arms ruled. “Opinions about attorneys do not reach ultimate issues in the case,” she said.
The jury began deliberations at 9 p.m. on Friday. At midnight, Arms excused them, with a reminder not to discuss the case with anyone through any means, including social media, and not to expose themselves to any coverage of the case.
The jury was to return to the court to resume deliberations at 8:30 a.m. today.